General Focus of Freetown

How is it like to be talented, have dreams and be young in Sierra Leone and what kinds of support exist to get you to the next level. Kelvin Doe's story is a good case study.

Kelvin Doe, sometimes known as General Focus, in a video still.

This summer I received an email from my friend Anusha about a young inventor in Freetown. The story really made me laugh because while being quite unique, it also really summed up a lot about the nature of social navigation for all types of young people in Sierra Leone (I did not change the punctuation in the message):

there is a 12 year old kid called General Focus, he has this amazing talent of making things on his own, generators and what not. He has a pirate radio station that broadcasts music a couple of times per week and he ‘”employs” his friends as the dj’s. He used to call himself DJ Focus, but has now upgraded to General Focus, because he manages things and makes sure they don’t play bad music — and that’s a quote. He pays the dj’s 5000 leons per month…

In September, with the help of Innovate Salone and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (M.I.T.), General Focus made his way to the U.S. to attend the Maker Faire in NY, and take up a brief residency as the M.I.T. International Development Program’s youngest ever visiting practitioner.

This past weekend, news about Kelvin spread perhaps faster than news about the country’s elections, via a short documentary film posted to YouTube on Friday.

The profile has gotten close to 300,000 views in a few days, showing that the world seems moved by this young genius and the really inspirational work of “big brother” David Sengeh. But, if you really want to get  an understanding of how exciting such young innovators are for Sierra Leoneans, watch the man interviewing Kelvin in this clip. He can barely contain his excitement at the prospect of a radio station at Bo School.

Further Reading

Between two evils

After losing its parliamentary majority for the first time, the African National Congress is scrambling to form a coalition government. The options are bleak.

Heeding the call

At the 31st New York African Film Festival, young filmmakers set the stage with adventurous and varied experiments in African cinema.